Work chat Fleep’s slash commands, tasks, and email integration

2016-01-19: Updated with some corrections. Strikeouts indicated former erroneous material now amended or deleted, and italics show new explanations.


I’ve been closely watching the development of work chat vendor Fleep, and since I reviewed the product in August (see Work chat tool Fleep has native task management: Is that a key feature, or just nice to have?) the company has addressed so many areas I won’t try to cover them all, I’ll let them do that for you.
I am just going to focus on the slash commands, tasks, and email integration.
Slash commands — Fleep’s chat (or ‘conversations’ as they call them), support a number of commands that are preceded by a slash (‘/’):

/pin <message> — create a new pinned message
/task <message> — create a new task message
/taskto @someone — create and assign a new task
/bug <message> — create a new bug report task with ((bug))
/add <email> — add new members to the conversation
/kick <email> — remove members from the conversation
/leave — leave conversation

When these are used in the context of a chat, when a chat message with a leading command is posted, the action is taken. In the screenshot below, I have just invited Doppelganger Jones to the AdjectiveNoun conversation, assigned him a task ‘please write up a plan’, and I have formed a new chat message at the bottom to create a second task also assigned to him.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.10.54 PM
Here’s the task pane opened after those tasks were created.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.11.26 PM
One of the weaknesses of Fleep’s task model is that the tasks have very little metadata. I can understand why they might not need comments or notes — it’s a chat app, after all — but due dates are fairly essential.
Tasks are completed by checking the task box. I found it odd that pinning a task — which moves a message to the top of the chat window and stops it from scrolling away — leads to the task losing its ‘taskness’: it becomes just another message. Odd.
Documents can be added to the conversation — including Google and Dropbox docs — but these aren’t attached to messages or tasks: they’re just dropped into the chat. And one or more documents/files can be added to messages or tasks.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.13.16 PM
Once added, they also show up in the ‘Files’ pane, the one with the paperclip icon.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.14.23 PM
Personally, I might have designed them to do both. That limitation seems particularly irksome with tasks.
It’s great that Fleep tasks (and messages) can have attachments, since passing along a description of the work to be done, or a document to be approved are commonplace activities.
Also note in this case I was trying to attach a Google doc, but somehow Fleep instead creates and attaches a PDF of the doc. So my colleagues on Fleep can’t use this as a way to open and coedit the Google doc, but just to look at an immediately out-of-date pdf of the doc. This is dumb. If I were actually using Fleep in production I would copy and paste URLs to docs, instead. And Fleep provides a text markup for that, in this form:

link<<text>>adds an inline link with the text in the angled brackets

And that works really well, in fact:
Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 10.01.45 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 10.02.01 AM
Clicking on the preview or the URL link opens the Google doc, and since I copied a share URL that allows for editing, my colleagues would be able to view, comment, and or edit the Google doc, in place.
Returning to tasks, the task pane can include ‘sections’ that can be used to arrange tasks into subsets.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.49.17 PM
I like the capability to layout the sections in this way, and when coupled with the ability to ‘clone’ conversations, teams could create and reuse project templates to help regularize the work in project conversations. Too bad that the ‘clone’ function for projects only copies the set of contributors, and doesn’t include — for example — the tasks defined in the conversation. If it did, teams could create and reuse project templates to help regularize the work in project conversations. Alas, not today.
Fleep now supports ‘@mentions’, so that I can alert others to messages, like ‘Can someone take a look at the timeline in this doc to check it’s up to date? https://docs.google.com/document/d/1bwF55zWtnJOtUsDheIoRgwmC7Geq7ZVcT9Ho-UYnd3w/edit?usp=sharing<<Report>> @doppelganger.jones’.
Note that the user identity in Fleep for Fleep users is an email address:
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.57.33 PM
This is by design. Fleep is tightly integrated with email, so that non-Fleep users can be invited to conversations simply by adding their email. If they aren’t a Fleep user, they can participate through email. This leads to all messages — including tasks — being sent to them, and their responses showing up in the conversation. Emailed tasks just look like messages at present, so email only participants can’t check them off, for example.
More importantly to me is that emails directed to Fleep aren’t treated as tasks but as messages, although they can be converted to tasks. And the model is that a new conversation is created with the other person for these emails. There is no way to direct them to an existing conversation. That’s a different slant than I am used to, from tools like Todoist.


I have not  touched on all features of the tool, but probably enough to get a sense for what using it feels like. Fleep is at core, a classic work chat tool, based on contextual conversation (see Contextual conversation: Work chat will dominate collaboration). Unlike leading competitors, however, Fleep has integrated task management.
At the same time, the limits on Fleep’s task model would chafe anyone who believes that richer capabilities are essential — like multiple assignment, subtasks, due dates, start dates, notes, comments, attachments, and so on. However, the fact that tasks and other messages can be brought back into context when looking at a task by selecting ‘show in conversation’ does counter some of the issues with notes, comments, and attachments, so long as they are in fact truly contextualized.
I hacked a link from a task to a day on my Google Calendar to represent a due date, but that just indicates the direction they might take if they start thinking about due dates and calendar integration. Here’s the edit for the task:
Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 9.51.54 AM
And here’s how it renders:Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 9.53.13 AM
This manual approach is just too much work, although I certainly could get the first order benefits simply by putting the due date in the text of a task.
Obviously, I’d rather have a calendar integration so that tasks with due dates would automatically show on my Google Calendar, and so would anyone else, I bet.
If the team at Fleep continue their development at the breakneck pace of 2015, they may in fact be countering some of these issues, and their focus on integration with a wide spectrum of developer tools seems to represent the same arc of adoption that we saw first with Hipchat, and later with Slack. We should anticipate the same disperal pattern, where the developers in a company infect non-developers with the ease of use and depth of the developers’ work chat platform, and they in turn begin to infect other non-developers across the company and the company’s ecosystem.

The best Gmail client is Outlook? Really?

I read about a new Outlook for iOS, and had to install it myself, because some were saying it is the best Gmail client. I am convinced. It is.

It is totally intuitive, and the ‘focused’ view is a distillation of Google’s multi-tab model, which aggregates different flavors of email into different tabs. However, Outlook has only two: ‘focused’ and ‘others’.

Here’s the ‘focused’ view, which brings in the most relevant emails, leaving everything else in ‘others’. Here’s the inbox with the ‘quick filter’ pulled down. Note that blue dots are unread emails, and the orange represents an email I have flagged.

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On my iPhone 6+, turning the app into landscape allows me to scroll through others, and at the same time, see the body of a selected email.

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The ‘people’ view brings up those that I email with most:

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The email editor is smart and simple, but has real power. Notice the three icons at the lower right, from left to right: send availability/create invite, send location, and attachments.

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The send availability allows me to select time slots in my calendar — my Google calendar integrated into Outlook — and mail those to the recipient. Note that the calendar is a full-up implementation, where I can create new events, invite others, and so on. I am working on my Google calendar, here:

2015-02-01 09.36.48

2015-02-01 09.36.57

 

The recipient — if using Outlook — can simply click on a time to create an event in their calendar. It doesn’t work that way in Gmail. though.

Here’s a screenshot after I touched on the file insert icon, showing integration with Dropbox, Google Drive and the iPhone photo system. There is a hook for OneDrive, but I didn’t set that up.

2015-02-01 09.31.25

 

Archiving is done with a simple sweep to the left — too fast to capture in a screenshot. And sweeping to the right leads to scheduling the email to return later on, in various preset times — like ‘in a few hours’ or at a specific time. Really simple email triage.

The Bottom Line

I admit to being kind of shocked that the best iOS Gmail client I’ve ever used is from Microsoft. It’s really fast, the algorithm for what should be in ‘focused’ works very well, and the calendar integration is something Google should have done years ago. I am stunned.


Update 11:07am 1 February 2015 — I was so shocked about this app that I omitted to say that Outloook for iOS is based on Acompli, an app that Microsoft recently acquired. The founder of the company, Javier Soltero, is now the General Manager of Outlook for Microsoft. I hope that he spins his magic on the other Outlook clients, especially Mac OS X.

Betty almost cracks scheduling meetings

I stumbled upon Betty, perhaps  the most minimal and easy-to-use meeting scheduling solution I’ve ever seen. It is a Google Chrome Plugin and a service that connects to Google Calendar (and others in the future).

Here’s how it works. I create an email where I want to propose some times for a meeting. In the email compose window Betty shows up as a tool bar at the bottom.

Screenshot 2014-03-08 16.26.05

I click to open it, and after setting length and location, I click on ‘select times’, and i am taken to a calendar like view where I can select dates and times, much like Magneto (see Magneto tackles the five things that are broken in calendars):

Screenshot 2014-03-08 16.16.50

Then, I click the ‘Insert Times Into Email’ button, which does as it says:

Screenshot 2014-03-08 16.17.06

And then, once I send the email, the recipient can pick a time, and then we are both sent calendar invitations for that time:

Screenshot 2014-03-08 16.20.24

So this approach does not require the other party to sign up for an account, or to even select alternatives on a calendar-like webpage. All they have to do is click on a link in an email. Easy.

Before you start saying hallelujah, there is a catch: this version only supports meetings between one sender and one recipient. And the real headache is meetings with multiple people, as we all know.

But I got this email from the founder of Betty, and I am sure that he will sketch out a roadmap that includes scheduling for multiple recipients:

Screenshot 2014-03-07 21.48.59

Boomerang Calendar cuts through the scheduling mess

Scheduling meetings is perhaps the biggest heat loss in the world of business. The give and take of times, alternatives, trying to deal with many people with different calendars and timezones… it’s a mess and there doesn’t seem to be any convention or system to solve it. Considering how many people use Gmail and Google calendar I’ve been expecting that Google — who is building autonomous cars and the world’s most popular search engine — would figure it out. But they haven’t really tried.

However, Baydin has built what Google should have into its Boomerang Calendar, a plugin for Chrome and Firefox browsers.

First of all, when you get email from others suggesting a possible time for a meeting, Boomerang recognizes the timestamp, and displays the timestamp in a red/green/yellow code: red is a conflict, green is go, and yellow indicates an adjacent meeting.

times

If you hover over a detected timestamp, Boomerang shows a full day’s calendar.

The best features are yet to come, however. You can send the next few days of your calendar in an email to one or more other folks, which shows free and busy times.

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 12.06.44

Note that as your schedule changes, this embedded calendar is always updated, so the recipients will see changes as they happen.

Alternatively, you can suggest a time for a meeting while editing the email, and send that along. Here you see the interface before selecting a time:

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 12.07.29

And here’s afterward, with a proposed time. Note that multiple times can be selected, and these time slots can be marked as ‘maybe’ in your calendar, and once you pick a time, the other tentatives times are deleted in one click.

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 12.08.45

 

The Bottom Line

The solution to the tentative time slots offered up for possible meetings and the ability to pick a single proposed time — and deleting no longer relevant tentative times — is going to be a godsend for me. And I bet for nearly everyone else that juggles a busy schedule. As just an example, the calendar in the last screen shot above leaves out the five or six other calls and meetings that I am trying to coordinate with others, all buried in email threads, and in several cases, possibly leading to conflicts. Boomerang is going to save me a great deal of friction in the ceaseless grind of coordinating meetings and calls.

If Boomerang saves only a few minutes per meeting I would judge it a great win, but the amount of energy wasted in this way is probably several times that.

The only remaining question is why doesn’t Google just buy Baydin and roll Boomerang into Google Calendar?

Tempo is a very smart calendar appliance

It’s clear that calendar software suffers from a skeuomorphic adherence to the paper agendas that people used for centuries before the computer was invented. 30 little boxes with text, times and dates. Minimal metadata, and absolutely no smarts about what a calendar entry means.

The perfect proof of that state of affairs is the meeting. When I am about to attend a meeting — either face-to-face or online — there is a predictable series of activities. I pull up emails related to the meeting, and review documents attached. I often need to send a message out to the meeting attendees saying that I will be a few minutes late.

Until recently it seemed that calendar app developers simply disregarded these use cases. Recently, however, the designers behind Apple’s Siri at SRI, finally attacked the problem head on, and the result is Tempo, a new iPhone app.

At first glance — after associating my email and calendar accounts — the app looks like other calendars. Here you see the Agenda and Month views.

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However, when you drill down into a specific event, like the meeting I am having tomorrow (on matters related to the Beacon Bike Loop project here in Beacon NY), you can see the capabilities of the tool. Along with the event’s time, place (which we haven’t settled yet), the contacts, and any recent emails from the contacts, Tempo allows me a simple way to send a message to all the attendees or to signal them that I will be late.

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Here you see the screen after clicking on ‘Message’, arranged so I can email all the contacts, or just one.

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Tempo is still processing my email, but when that is finished it will also fetch attachments in emails that might be related, as well, at least in principle. And it acts as a robotic assistant, working silently in the background, so that I don’t have to manually dig up the contacts, search for emails, etc. Tools like Meetin.gs work the opposite way, putting the burden of being organized on the user. Me, I want ‘bots to organize my mess for me, instead.

Tempo looks like a really smart tool, especially on a mobile device, but an appliance that I see myself using prior to almost any meeting. I wish there was a web version so I could use it on my Mac.

This is another great example of a small and simple social tool, one designed to attack a narrow set of related use cases without trying to boil the entire ocean of all event-related activities.

Sooner shows real innovation in mobile UX

I have to say that after looking at a few dozen calendar tools for my iPhone, they all seem more or less the same. Sooner is new entrant that has adopted a wheel-oriented design motif in some interesting ways, one that breaks away from the seemingly endless agenda-and-30-boxes approach that most use.

Above you see the wheel for the current week with Wednesday selected, and displaying the day’s events on the innermost ring. The plus sign is the way to create new events, which is dragged over the inner or outer elements of the wheel.

Sooner is a task manager tool, as well. The task UI is reached by clicking on the list icon in the upper right corner, leading to this:

Here you see categories — for example, ‘1 year plan’ and ‘to do’ — and tasks — like ‘Luke meets droids’ or ‘Watch Star Wars’ — and clicking on any item leads to an edit interface. Dragging the plus icon into one of the categories leads to creating a task in that category and opening it in edit mode.

Because the UX is very oriented to touch it is actually very difficult to describe exactly how to accomplish things, like assigning a time to work on a task, which involves both the task and calendar wheels. However, the tool has helpful guidance built in, like this:

And when you select on items, like events or tasks, you are provided a more or less normal edit view like this:

Sooner syncs with the  default calendar on the iPhone, which in my case links to Google calendar, and creating events through Sooner just worked. However, Sooner tasks currently don’t sync with anything outside of Sooner, and so it is currently a standalone iOS application for tasks.

The obvious missing piece would be an integration with Google tasks, although I don’t think Google tasks is full-featured enough for very serious use. In the longer run, it would be interesting to imaging a shared calendar/team task management service that could grown from Sooner, and it would be great if that came sooner, not later.

iCloud 101: Know your family’s Calendar

Knowing family members’ schedules is useful, but it’s also a way to stay connected. There is more than one way to keep an entire family up to date with the various events in our lives. Here are three techniques an iCloud-using family can use.

How To Upgrade Your MobileMe Calendar Safely

Since my business runs on iCal, I approached the CalDAV upgrade for MobileMe Calendar users (which becomes mandatory May 5) with reluctance and some healthy fear. Here are my recommendations and a walkthrough of the process that should hopefully make the task less daunting for you.

5 Common Collaborative Scheduling Faux Pas

I’ve heard mounting complaints about the Google-centric focus of web workers from those using other scheduling tools, but the fact is that the plethora of tools designed to make scheduling easy can actually make it more difficult. Are you guilty of these scheduling faux pas?

Tungle: Schedule Meetings Your Way

tunglelogo-main2
In today’s world of home-based businesses, geographically dispersed business operations, outsourced services and worldwide marketing activities, scheduling meetings can become a bit of a nightmare. It’s also a world of many calendar programs (Outlook (s msft), MS Exchange, Google Calendar (s goog), LotusLive (Notes) (s ibm), iCal (s aapl) and Entourage) and diverse platforms (Windows, Mac, smartphones). Scheduling a meeting by email exchange can be a tedious and lengthy process at the best of times. Launching today, Tungle aims to make meeting scheduling a much simpler process for all parties.
Initially released two years ago as an Outlook plug-in, the Tungle team used the alpha and beta versions of the platform as a market research tool, as much as a test of the platform itself. Key findings included:

  • it takes too many emails/phone calls to coordinate one meeting
  • participants are dispersed around the globe and across different time zones
  • 60% of meetings are with participants from outside the meeting coordinator’s company
  • 75% of meetings are one-to-one
  • 95% of meetings have four or fewer participants

Read More about Tungle: Schedule Meetings Your Way